For many players, a big part of the appeal of Commander is getting to play fun and unique cards that may not shine in more competitive Constructed formats. Getting to craft a deck around a specific general leaves a lot of room for creativity and building the deck to suit your likings. After all, there are tons of different legendary Creatures to choose from, and different legends lend themselves to different styles of decks.
Lots of players enjoy the opportunity to ramp into enormous haymakers. Others love to build synergistic decks around a specific theme, such as an Enchantress deck or a Kindred deck built around a certain Creature type. One of the most highly played synergistic strategies out there is certainly life gain.Dina, Soul Steeper and Oloro, Ageless Ascetic are two of the most popular Commander options over the last two years, according to EDHREC. Of course, there are tons of other excellent Commanders that pay you off for gaining life, including Karlov of the Ghost Council and Astarion, the Decadent.
The key to maximizing all of these Commanders is filling your deck with the best life gain enablers and payoffs, creating a strong deck where all the pieces work to further your goal. Your gameplan is relatively simple, but can be extremely effective.
Today, we are going to go over some of the best cards available for Commander decks focused on the life gain theme. Notably, life gain decks can be of different color combinations, so not every card on this list can go in every deck centered around life gain. However, each of these cards are excellent inclusions for almost any life gain deck that can cast them. With that in mind, here are the top five MTG best life gain support cards for Commander.
#5 Serra Ascendant
Serra Ascendant is a very strong card for life gain Commander decks for one reason: players naturally start at 40 life, not 20. The idea behind the card in other formats is that you get a one-mana 1/1 with Lifelink at its base, but if you can manage to get up 10 life above your original starting life total, you are rewarded with a 6/6 Flier with Lifelink instead. In Commander, though, you can simply play this card on turn one as a 6/6 with Flying and Lifelink.
Obviously, this puts the pressure on quickly for your opponents to kill it. Even if they can, you probably get to hit your opponents a couple times and get a nice life cushion. If they can’t, though, things can start to get out of control. Commanders like Lathiel, the Bounteous Dawn and Licia, Sanguine Tribune work exceptionally well Serra Ascendant. Licia can be cast for three mana after attacking with Serra Ascendant, and Lathiel can grow Serra Ascendant immensely after you’ve attacked with it. It’s hard to go wrong with such an efficient card that can gain life in big chunks.
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#4 Soul Sister Effects
We decided to group these types of cards together because there are a lot of them and they all fill similar roles. The absolute best cards in this category are those that don’t just gain life whenever a Creature you control enters the battlefield, but whenever any Creature from any player enters the battlefield. Cards like Soul Warden, Essence Warden and Soul’s Attendant all fit this bill.
At one mana each, these cards come down early and don’t initially seem too threatening. However, in any deck where the Commander provides beneficial triggers each time you gain life, such as Heliod, Sun-Crowned or Karlov of the Ghost Council, these triggers can get out of hand. All it takes is your opponents playing a few Creatures out while you have Heliod and Soul Warden in play and before you know it, there will be +1/+1 counters all over your board. Don’t underestimate the value these small Creatures bring to the table.
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#3 Sanguine Bond-Style Effects
Sanguine Bond provides a relatively unique effect for life gain decks that actually helps convert all of your efforts to gain life into a way to end the game. The reality is, as fun as life gain might be as a strategy, it can be tough sometimes to put pressure on your opponents. Well, Sanguine Bond helps mitigate this problem. Cards like Beacon of Immortality can instantly kill an opponent out of nowhere with Sanguine Bond’s effect.
There are other cards that have similar effects, too, that are worth mentioning in this section. If you are looking for the same effect, cards like Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose can provide some redundancy. Where these cards shine brightest is alongside Exquisite Blood. With Sanguine Bond and Exquisite Blood both in play, the second you gain life or an opponent loses life, you will be able to drain your opponents of all their life. Once you gain life, an opponent loses that much life from Sanguine Bond. This causes you to gain that much life off of Exquisite Blood, and the chain continues. This is a nice combo for any life gain deck in black.
#2 Bolas’s Citadel
Bolas’s Citadel is the ultimate source of card advantage for life gain decks. Bolas’s Citadel was already a very strong card for many black decks in Commander as players start at 40 life. However, for life gain decks, you can often just have free reign to cast whatever you want from the top of your library without much consequence.
What makes Citadel such an absurd card is that, unlike traditional card advantage sources, Citadel can put the cards you gain directly into play. The downside is that, if you have a relatively high curve, the fun can stop pretty quickly if your life total starts to dwindle. This is especially true if players are attacking you. For life gain decks, though, chaining cards together is much more sustainable, making Citadel extremely threatening.
#1 Heliod, Sun-Crowned
Heliod is an incredible life gain payoff both as a Commander and as one of your 99 other cards. Because of the common presence of cards like the Soul Sisters mentioned above, it’s very easy to get a bunch of triggers off of Heliod and start making your board of Creatures much more threatening. The fact that Heliod is naturally excellent in life gain decks and is also part of a multitude of different two-card combos earns it a spot this high on the list.
If you have a copy of Walking Ballista in play with at least two counters, you can give it Lifelink with Heliod. From there, each time you ping an opponent for a damage, you gain a life, thereby putting the counter right back on Ballista thanks to Heliod, allowing you to deal infinite damage to your opponents. The same thing works with Triskelion, too. While Spike Feeder doesn’t outright win the game with Heliod in play, you can gain infinite life by simply removing counters from Spike Feeder to gain life, then putting those counters back on with Heliod. There’s just no way to go wrong with Heliod in a life gain deck, hence why it’s at the top of the list.